Nathaniel Hawthorne communicates through his novel The Scarlet Letter that some dogmatic attempts by society to label a person by his or her actions in the past will fail. Subjectivity across the community and throughout time changes the meaning of a symbol society implements to control an idea. The scarlet letter “A” Hester Prynne wears exemplifies this. The town wants the object to arouse feelings of ignominy towards Hester; however, not everyone who meets Hester interprets it the same way. The town originally regards the letters as a signification of ignominy, but this interpretation soon switches to ability, and, finally, to honor as Hester’s action prevail in the subjectivity across time. Subjectivity also leads the scarlet letter to hold different meanings for Chillingworth, Dimmesdale, and even for the governor’s butler. The beginning of the novel seems to imply that there is no subjectivity concerning the letter. The town initially views the scarlet letter as a designation of wrongdoing. The letter the town forces Hester Prynne to wear turns her into “a living sermon against sin, until the ignominious letter be engraved upon her tombstone” (Hawthorne 59). Nearly all the townspeople view her this way and young children run away from her in fear and disgust when they see her. The town magistrates are proud that the scarlet letter is appearing to achieve its objective. The town is learning to hate her, “thus the young and pure would be taught to look at her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast…as the figure, the body, the reality of sin” (73). This implies that the letter was successful in its purpose. This is not the case; subjectivity does prevail.
Hester’s actions generate changes in the scarlet letter’s meaning through time’s inherently subjective nature. She originally sews the scarlet letter A in such an elaborate and decorative manner “that it [has] all the effect of a last and fitting decoration…but greatly beyond what [is] allowed by the...
Cited: Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York City: Bantam Books, 2003.
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